The Valparaiso volleyball team got out to a fast start Friday night in Milwaukee, Wis., taking the opening set, but Milwaukee won each of the final three frames for a 3-1 (17-25, 25-12, 25-19, 25-22) victory over the Crusaders.
The Crusaders were playing without normal starting outside hitter Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) on Friday night, who was out due to illness.
“I am proud of the fact we came out and played as hard as we did despite being shorthanded tonight, without Katie and with a number of other players under the weather as well,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “But coming in, we knew Milwaukee was strong defensively and tried to set the tone with their defense, and that’s exactly what they did. They out-blocked us by a lot and also out-dug us, and you’re not going to win a lot of matches getting beat in those two categories and hitting at a low percentage.”
Valpo stormed out of the gate in the opening frame, jumping out to a 8-1 lead on the strength of three kills by Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central), two kills from Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) and a kill by Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West). The Crusaders forced the Panthers to use both of their timeouts during the opening spurt and were never really threatened the rest of the way. Milwaukee did close to within 21-16, but a 4-1 spurt with kills by Porché, Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) and Mary Dent (Long Grove, Ill./Von Steuben) and a solo rejection by Diebler closed the set in Valpo’s favor.
The second set went the Crusaders’ way in the early going, as Valpo got out to a 6-4 advantage, but Milwaukee would roll from there, scoring 21 of the set’s final 27 points. A 7-0 run gave the Panthers the lead for good, and with the Crusaders still within five at 17-12, UWM ended the set on an 8-0 spurt to enter intermission tied at a set apiece.
The Panthers led start to finish in the third set, but the Crusaders did not let them pull ahead by much, sticking close for much of the frame. A four-point Milwaukee advantage at 18-14 became just one at 19-18 thanks to a quick 4-1 spurt, including two terminations by Diebler and one from Dent, but after the teams traded sideouts, Milwaukee rattled off the last five points of the set.
The fourth set featured multiple runs by both sides. Milwaukee jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but the Crusaders answered with a 5-2 spurt to close to 9-7. The Panthers responded with a 5-2 spurt of its own to re-establish the five-point advantage, but this time Valpo put together a 7-2 run, including three blocks and a kill by Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) to tie things up at 16. But Milwaukee would score the next three points to take the lead for good, and while the Crusaders closed to within one point on multiple occasions, they could not pull into a tie as the Panthers completed the victory.
Diebler had a big match on the offensive side of the ball for Valpo, putting down a career-best 20 kills while swinging at a .326 clip, but Porché was the only other Crusader to finish in double figures, posting 12 kills. Porché surpassed 2,000 career kills on the night and holds the career record in the category by over 500 kills. Bukowski handed out a match-high 46 assists on the evening, while Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) led all players with 19 digs.
“Tara was flat-out awesome up front tonight,” said Avery. “She got kills for us every time we needed them. It was easily the best match of her career.”
Milwaukee (12-14, 9-6 Horizon) put fourplayers in double figures in kills, including a trio with 12 apiece. Maddie Sueppel hit .423 with 12 kills for the Panthers, while Natalie Schmitting posted ten kills and nine blocks, as Milwaukee came up with 16 total team blocks on the evening.
Valparaiso (21-9, 11-4 Horizon) maintained a one-game advantage for second place in the league standings, as Butler also lost on Friday. The Crusaders can clinch second place in the league and the corresponding bye into the Horizon League Championship semifinals with a victory Saturday at Green Bay. First serve is set for 4 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and seen online on the Horizon League Network. Links for both the audio and video will be available through www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.